Dogwood's Cochran Wins Big FCPS Honor

Principal named "Principal of the Year," as well as Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award winner.

Robyn Cochran, who has served as principal at since 2005 and has worked for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) for 26 years, has been named the FCPS 2012 Principal of the Year and is the recipient of the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award. 

Cochran is one of 21 principals–representing the public school systems in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and private schools–selected by the Washington Post for the award.             

“As the principal of a school that was once under a high level of Virginia Department of Education sanctions, Robyn Cochran never wavered from her focus of best practices and doing the work that is best for students and student learning,”  Title I resource teacher Rebecca Forgy said in a statement.   “She truly believes that by staying true to this work at Dogwood, student learning will progress and meeting expected benchmarks and AYP will simply be the byproduct.”

Cochran began her tenure at the school by addressing disciplinary problems and establishing Dogwood Expectations, a program implemented to teach children respectful behavior and peaceful problem-solving skills. She relied on teacher leaders to teach and reinforce these skills, which resulted in a change in the atmosphere at the school. 

This program, along with the implementation of Responsive Classroom, provides students with consistent expectations and, if discipline needs do arise, a proactive response is instituted which is designed to prevent future or reoccurring incidents, resulting in a reduction in out-of-school suspension by more than 60 percent over the past five years, FCPS says.         

“It was evident to us that Robyn’s strong leadership skills, ability to hire quality faculty and staff, and overall vision for Dogwood were responsible for the positive changes occurring at the school,” says parent liaison and PTA president Susan Livingood.

Cochran has reached out to families, the school district, and community partners to bring additional support and resources to the school. She established Dogwood Connection, the school’s family resource center.   She also instituted Dogwood Visits, where staff members visit the home of each student to welcome them to the new school year.

Other reasons why Cochran was chosen: fostering two-way communication between administrators and staff members, listening to opinions and feedback, and involving staff in the decision-making process, some of whom serve on the 20-member Dogwood Leadership Team, which guides the school improvement plan; staying involved in quarterly data dialogue days—where instructional personnel study and discuss the use of data to help differentiate instruction—participates in collaborative learning team meetings; and regularly visiting classrooms to stay in touch with what is happening in the classroom and to help determine strengths and needs.

Cochran's participation in the Southgate Initiative, which includes the Reston Interfaith Center, Fairfax County Department of Family Services, and Fairfax County government, and local apartment complexes and community centers, “models her belief that we must all work together to support our students,” says Forgy.

“From an academic perspective, the gains in achievement made at Dogwood under Robyn’s leadership have been astonishing,” adds Livingood. “Moreover, the fact that Dogwood is no longer under VDOE sanctions has instilled a sense of pride that has not been felt around the school for many years.”

“Our goal has never been AYP or high test scores,” says Cochran. “It has consistently been to provide outstanding instruction to individual students regardless of their learning needs or challenges.”

Finalists for the 2012 FCPS Principal of the Year included Brian Butler, principal of the new Mason Crest Elementary School, and Jill Jakulski, principal of Burke School.

janet otersen March 26, 2012 at 08:58 PM
From an academic perspective, the gains in achievement made at Dogwood under Robyn’s leadership have been astonishing,” adds Livingood I guess I misunderstand the meaning of the word "astonishing". Based on data posted on the VA DOE website, we have the following results at this school: Science SOL Performance: 61% pass rate (it was 69% ) vs the state average of 90% Only 46% of Blacks and 52% of Hispanics passed the Science SOL. The Black score dropped 30 percentage points! Writing Performance: Overall just 62% of students passed vs the state average of 89%. 50% of Blacks passed this assessment and 61% of Hispanics. History: An overall pass rate of 65%--down 10 percentage points in the last 3 years. Blacks passed at just 46% and Hispanics at 60%. Math: The ONLY bright spot at this school with an increase of 1 percentage point in three years. English: Drops in every sub-category, including a 10 percentage point drop fr Blacks to 80% and an 11 percentage point drop for Hispanics to 81%. In virtually every test, the scores went down. Keep in mind, that this is a school that relies heavily on VGLA to prop up SOL pass rates. Nearly 20% of kids don't even take the Reading SOL-prior years it was 30% of kids excluded. I am fine with acknowledging this principal for other accomplishments such as reducing suspensions, but any talk of improved academic performance is not supported by data.
S Huebsch March 26, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Thankfully, those who award Principal of the Year know that there is so much going on within our schools that is not reflected in these simple numbers, which don't cover much of the story at Dogwood Elementary. I see the beautiful children at this school every day, including my own children, and know that this award is richly deserved in every way. Congratulations to Robyn Cochran and Dogwood!
New to Reston March 26, 2012 at 11:37 PM
A few gaps in the case made above: 1. These scores are best used to show change over longer periods; a simple year-to-year comparison can show anomalies. The longer trend line is clearly positive in math and reading, in spite of the recent single-year reduction. In fact, until this 1-year dip, Dogwood exceeded both FCPS and VA averages in reading for most subgroups (p.5. of school report card). 2. Most schools with similar demographics experienced similar dips in data. This usually indicates changes in testing structure rather than a lag in actual instruction. 3. The use of the VGLA has been broadly recognized as a valid alternative for students in the first years of learning English. Nearly 60% of Dogwood students are limited-proficiency, so many of them must take (and pass) the SOLs. 3. Your math data seems off. I see at VDOE a 7% increase in 3 years, not the 1% you claim. Also note that every subgroup outperforms FCPS and VA averages (p.5 of school report card). History and Science are indeed disappointing. However Dogwood's focus has (by law) been on reading and math, and if you look deeper you will see both a clear improvement over time, and a distinct narrowing of achievement gaps. It is, so far, quite rare for a school to recover from such deep sanctions. So while clearly not all is perfect, it is just as clear that something remarkable has happened. This claim is in fact supported by a more thorough look at the data.
New to Reston March 27, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Also keep in mind that 20% of kids not taking an SOL doesn't mean 20% took the VGLA. Some of these may have taken the VAAP (another alternative assessment, for certain special education students only). Some were exempted because they moved to the school after the 'cutoff date.' There are actually fairly strict rules for VGLA participation, and they have become stricter in the past couple of years.
Charlotte March 27, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Principal of the Year Award 2012 - Fairfax County Public Schools. Getting to the root of the matter -- here's a nod to the award sponsor, The Washington Post, who sets a high bar for establishing the award criteria. Awards are made from here. Winners know who they are and sometimes they wind up being acknowledged in venues like this. Nice work Washington Post. Thanks to the Dogwood Principal for not only doing your job as CEO of the school but for making such a difference in every child, and for most importantly for constantly giving credit to your team emphasizing collective success. This county is making such a huge difference. It's nice to see real leaders acknowledged.
Carolyn Lawson Low March 27, 2012 at 10:31 AM
Congratulations Robyn! The Dogwood community is fortunate to have such a positive leader and strong team.
janet otersen March 27, 2012 at 01:49 PM
The use of the VGLA has been broadly recognized as a valid alternative for students in the first years of learning English. Broadly recognized???? Don't think so. The VA GA was so troubled by the overuse and abuse they ordered that the VGLA be replaced with something-- shall we say, more "challenging"? ANY assessment that has a 100% pass rate isn't worth the time and effort. Most teachers know this but are terrified to admit it publicly. I am not critical of this principal's other accomplishments--team-building or whatever, I just object to this reference of astonishing achievement. As far as "a law" that demands an emphasis on Reading and Math--could you cite this law? Of course schools focus on these two subjects because this is what AYP is based on. However, for a school to go light on other subjects to inflate test scores would be harmful to the overall education of kids. Long-term trends??? How much lower was this school?? 50% pass rates in Science in some subgroups is dreadful---was it 20% at one point? It would be nice if the supporters at this school-PTA people or whomever--would just not gloss over some pretty terrible scores and say something like, "We have a lot of work to do in ensuring that ALL of our kids are academically successful". That's all I ask---a simple acknowledgement that this school has a long way to go before they can claim great achievement results.
janet otersen March 27, 2012 at 02:43 PM
"resulting in a reduction in out-of-school suspension by more than 60 percent over the past five years, FCPS says." I am a bit uncomfortable with this claim as well. According to reported incidents to VA DOE, Dogwood had the following out of school suspensions: 2006-07 29 2007-08 10 2008-09 22 2009-10 27 2010-11 19 Sure, you could look at the change between 2006/07 and 2010/11 and claim a 34% drop, but given that the five year average was 21 incidents, there really wasn't a big drop last year. If you compare 2007/08 to 2010/11, one could say there was a 90% increase. Most troubling is that most of the out of school suspensions were for incidents related to behavior-nearly 60%. Just 20% of OSS were for serious incidents related to acts against another student-fighting or whatever and even those incidents were given a short-term suspension--so they clearly were not that serious. FCPS, as a whole has seen about a 40% drop in OSS in the last five years, so the numbers from Dogwood don't appear to be anything more remarkable than FCPS averages.
New to Reston March 27, 2012 at 03:18 PM
The law in question is clearly NCLB, which demands reading and math achievement above all else. As for long-term trends, I was clearly referring only to math and reading. You keep bringing up science, which I already agreed was a troubling area. So it seems you didn't even read my point very carefully. In science and history the scores at Dogwood have been pretty consistent, but in reading and math - the areas demanded by the Federal Govt. - there has been long-term growth. It would be nice if critics would acknowledge the growth that has happened rather than only pointing out the negatives all the time. This school recognizes the work that still needs to be done. I've heard staff from this school say exactly what you put in quotes, word for word. I don't hear the same attitude at the 'more desirable' schools in Reston, which have better reputations but are using broad averages to cover up some pretty dismal achievement gaps and a general lack of growth.
J Grant March 27, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Congratulations Robyn ! Keep up the Great work. Proud Parent of a Dogwood student
janet otersen March 27, 2012 at 04:02 PM
" but in reading and math - the areas demanded by the Federal Govt. - there has been long-term growth" Not an entirely true statement. The English SOL performance is mixed. Just look at 3rd Grade: Hispanics: 2008-09 96% 2009-10 88% 2010-11 71% How can you possibly draw conclusions when there is a 25 percentage point range? What caused this huge drop? Can we agree that 96 to 71 is huge? I know the answer....do you? Dogwood had to cut back on the kids using VGLA due to tighter eligibility standards. In 2008-09, 95 kids used VGLA and last year only 68 kids did. So when those kids took the SOL they failed and brought the scores down. Same with 5th grade Reading scores-they are all over the place: Black: 2008-09 85% 2009-10 100% 2010-11 63% That's crazy and in some school districts that type of swing would warrant an audit for testing irregularity. You can't have 20-30 percentage point swings and honestly say that the long term trends are wonderful. They are quite suspect and definitely inconclusive.
Pat Hynes March 28, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Congratulations to Robyn and her wonderful staff, students and families! It is a daunting challenge to dig out of NCLB sanctions without losing sight of what matters most: that school be a place of joy and discovery for everyone, students and adults alike. Accountability is critical, of course, but too often we do it in a way that puts numbers where children should be. We know that our loftiest goal for our children - no matter what background they're from - is not that they pass a battery of multiple-choice tests at the end of this year. We need multiple measures, including portfolio assessments like the VGLA. We need to develop long-term measures that are worthy of our goals of lifetime success in college and career, responsible citizenship and lifelong learning. One visit to Dogwood will show you that it is a place where people thrive and the future is in good hands. Kudos to Robyn for her thoughtful, joyful leadership! Pat Hynes Fairfax County School Board Member, Hunter Mill District
Proud Parent March 28, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Congratulations to Robyn! Those who have actually stepped foot inside Dogwood know what a wonderful school it is. Robyn and her staff have made wonderful strides with the students, academically and otherwise. I still remember the day that I overheard someone say that Dogwood was a gem of a school and Reston's best kept secret. They were right and I'm glad the secret's out! My child started here in 2005 and I have been nothing but impressed with the entire staff. They go above and beyond what anyone could reasonably expect them to do. As far as scores and subgroups go I would recommend that the person trying to malign Dogwood understand what a subgroup is and what the scores actually mean. The beautiful part of the story, which you would know if you ever visited Dogwood, is that the scores following the same group of students (transient students included) is ASTONISHING. However, I am biased because I've seen first hand what this incredible staff can and has done. Thanks again Robyn!
keep looking... March 29, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Again, Ms. Otersen seems to have missed the point. She mentions "long-term trends" but then refers to only 2 or 3 years of data, instead of the 5 or 6 you need to gauge the true effect of language arts instruction. She also ignores an important reality: Dogwood students lost FIVE WEEKS of annual instruction when the modified calendar program was terminated. Planning to restore that learning takes time. She cites raw SOL data that includes students who entered the school partway through the year, rather than citing official data reflecting only those students for whom the entire year of instruction came from one school's staff. She claims that 100% pass-rates mean the test must be invalid. Well, in that case, in 2014 - when NCLB demands that rate from every school in the country - she must either admit that every school is a failure, or claim that the tests are ALL invalid. The 5th-grade test scores for black students reflect a small subgroup. When comparing one cohort of students to another, having a small sample size can lead to unusually broad swings. Run the numbers: Dogwood is about 15% black, meaning there are no more than 12-15 students in each year's fifth grade class. So, it only takes a handful of students to swing the percentage. In a larger sample, such a swing would indeed be indicative of trouble. But there is a great risk in drawing broad conclusions based on the performance of 3 or 4 kids.
Robyn Cochran May 04, 2012 at 11:31 PM
I am glad to see questions and concerns presented openly and I welcome visits to all who wish to learn and ask questions. My direct phone line is 703-262-3106. ~Robyn


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